Martín, J., Barja, I., Rodríguez-Ruiz, G. et al. 2023. Hidden but potentially stressed: A non-invasive technique to quantify fecal glucocorticoid levels in a fossorial amphisbaenian reptile. Animals 13(1), 109.

To understand wildlife responses to the changing environment, it is useful to examine their physiological responses and particularly their endocrine status. Here, we validated an enzyme immunoassay (EIA) to non-invasively quantify fecal corticosterone metabolites (FCM) in the fossorial amphisbaenian reptile Trogonophis wiegmanni from North Africa. We supplemented animals assigned to the treatment group with corticosterone dissolved in oil applied non-invasively on the skin for several days, while control groups received the oil-alone solution. Fresh feces were collected at the end of the supplementation period, and FCM levels were quantified by an EIA. Basal FCM levels were similar for both treatments and increased at the end of the test, but FCM increased significantly more in corticosterone-treated animals. A further examination of FCM levels in a wild population of this amphisbaenian did not find overall sexual, size or seasonal differences but showed a high range of variation among individuals. This suggests that different uncontrolled intrinsic or local environmental variables might increase the circulating glucocorticoid levels of different individuals. Our results confirmed the suitability of EIA for analyzing physiological changes in FCM in this amphisbaenian species. This technique may be useful for understanding and remediating the little-explored potential stressors of the soil environment that may negatively affect the health state of fossorial reptiles.

Animal Type